Portland Jazz Composer Brings "The Territory" To Oregon Bach Festival In Eugene

Jul 10, 2019

Darrell Grant is a jazz pianist, composer, and professor of music at Portland State University. The Territory, his 2013 composition about the geographical and cultural history of the state of Oregon, will be performed on Friday July 12 at the Soreng Theater in Eugene. The concert is part of the Oregon Bach Festival.

Credit Oregon Bach Festival

This piece, The Territory, is about a specific place, Oregon, and you haven't performed it here in a few years. How does it feel to be playing it for an Oregonian audience, again?

WELL, I'M REALLY EXCITED TO BE PERFORMING THIS PIECE IN OREGON AGAIN. IT'S BEEN, I THINK IT WAS 2015 MAYBE 2016 WAS THE LAST TIME WE PERFORMED IT DOWN IN BEND. AND EVERY TIME I PERFORM IT, IT'S A REALLY SATISFYING OPPORTUNITY TO SORT OF REVISIT HOW I FELT WHEN I WROTE IT, WHAT HAS CHANGED SINCE I WROTE IT, AND WHAT KIND OF THINGS STILL RESONATE. BUT IT FEELS LIKE SOMETHING THAT WAS WRITTEN FOR THIS PLACE UNIQUELY, AND SO I'M REALLY EXCITED TO REPRISE IT IN PORTLAND, AND I'M REALLY EXCITED TO SHARE IT WITH THE PEOPLE OF EUGENE.

You said that it was uniquely written for Oregon, how did the idea for the piece come to you and what sort of ideas or musical traditions inspired you?

I HAD WRITTEN A PIECE IN 2011, WHICH WAS A SUITE, THAT WAS BASED ON THE STORY OF CIVIL RIGHTS ICON RUBY BRIDGES. AND IT WAS ONE OF THE FIRST THINGS I'D DONE THAT WAS SORT OF AN EXTENDED COMPOSITION. I WAS REALLY INTERESTED IN DOING SOMETHING THAT WAS MORE THAN SORT OF WRITING SHORT JAZZ PIECES. AND SO, I HAD THE OPPORTUNITY TO APPLY FOR A GRANT IN 2012 FROM CHAMBER MUSIC AMERICA. EVERY YEAR THEY GIVE A SERIES OF COMMISSIONS FOR THE COMPOSING AND PERFORMING OF NEW JAZZ WORKS. AND SO I WAS THINKING ABOUT WHAT I COULD DO, SORT OF THINKING ABOUT THE CONNECTION OF MUSIC TO PLACE AND SORT OF HOW YOU EVOKE PLACE AND HOW PLACE AFFECTS THE ART THAT'S MADE THERE, AND THE WAY THAT PEOPLE LIVE. AND THAT WAS KIND THE INSPIRATION FOR THE TERRITORY. I HAD THIS IDEA, IN WINEMAKE THEY HAVE THIS CONCEPT OF TERROIR THAT THE LAND ITSELF REALLY AFFECTS THE TASTE OF THE GRAPE AND EVERYTHING THAT GOES INTO IT. AND I WONDER IF IT'S SIMILAR FOR MUSIC. I WONDER IF THERE'S A WAY THAT I CAN TAP INTO SOMETHING UNIQUE THAT COMES FROM HERE, THE STORY, THE LAND, AND TRANSLATE IT INTO MUSIC. AND OBIVOUSLY IF YOU'RE THINKING ABOUT THE HISTORY OF THE PLACE, THEN YOU HAVE TO LOOK TO THE ORIGINAL INHABITANTS. AND SO I STARTED READING ABOUT THAT HISTORY AND READING ABOUT THE RELATIONSHIP OF THE NATIVE AMERICANS TO MOUNT HOOD, KNOWN AS WY'EAST. IN A TIME WHERE THAT WAS A SACRED SYMBOL, IT SEEMED LIKE A REALLY INTERESTING THING TO ADDRESS. AND SO I STARTED FINDING MUSIC THAT WAS IN THE NATIVE TRADITIONS, AND CAME UPON THIS NEZ PERCE CHANT THAT REALLY STRUCK ME, SO THAT BECAME THE SOURCE THEM FOR THE FIRST MOVEMENT OF THE TERRITORY, THE HYMN TO THE FOUR WINDS. AND OBVIOUSLY READING THE HISTORY OF EASTERN OREGON YOU READ ABOUT THE LEGENDARY CHIEF JOSEPH. AND I CAME UPON THIS STATEMENT THAT WAS ATTRIBUTED TO HIS FATHER, MADE TO HIM, SORT OF TELLING HIM DON'T SELL THE LAND OF YOUR ANCESTORS. AND I ALSO DISCOVERED HIS SURRENDER SPEECH HE GAVE WHEN THEY FINALLY GAVE UP THEIR SORT OF LONG-STANDING RUNNING RETREAT WITH THE US FORCES. AND I THOUGHT THAT WOULD BE A REALLY BEAUTIFUL THING TO TRY AND SET TO MUSIC.

You recently won a MAP fund grant for a chamber opera you're currently composing which addresses racial inequity in Portland, and many of your other compositions address political struggle in our communities and in the world at large. Can you talk a little bit about how you see music as a part of activism and advocacy?

I GUESS I'VE ALWAYS BEEN MAYBE MORE INTERESTED IN--I MEAN I LOVE MAKING MUSIC, AND I LOVE THE CREATIVE PROCESS OF CREATING MUSIC AND PERFORMING MUSIC, BUT I'VE ALSO BEEN REALLY INTERESTED IN WHAT MUSIC CAN DO. LIKE, WHAT'S THE ROLE OF MUSIC IN OUR SOCIETIES, IN OUR COMMUNITIES AND OUR CULTURE? AND WHAT IS MY RIGHTFUL ROLE AS A MUSICIAN? A TRADITIONAL GRIOT IS A HISTORY KEEPER, A STORY TELLER FOR THE TRIBE. AN ARTIST CAN BE A PROPHET. EVEN THE ARTISTS WHO ARE INCREDIBLY EXPERIMENTAL, THEY'RE LIKE SCIENTISTS, THEY'RE LIKE RESEARCHERS. THEY GO DEEP INTO WAYS OF THINKING, WAYS OF BEING, AND THEY BRING BACK THEIR FINDINGS TO PEOPLE. SO I GUESS I FEEL LIKE MY ROLE AS AN ARTIST IS REALLY TO FIND THE MOST EFFECTIVE WAYS TO USE MY ART TO BRING ABOUT POSITIVE CHANGE. AND SO THAT'S WHAT I'VE REALLY TRIED TO DO IN COMPOSING, AND ALSO IN THE TEACHING, AND ADVOCACY, AND SORT OF DRAWING ATTENTION TO THINGS. FINDING A WAY TO TELL STORIES IN COMPELLING WAYS THAT REMIND PEOPLE OF THEIR BEST SELVES.

You can hear Darrell Grant's "The Territory" Friday July 12 at 7:30pm in the Hult Center's Soreng Theater.